Published Online: October 5, 1994

Private School Accrediting Group Names Members

Alexandria, Va.

After years of planning and months of evaluation, six accrediting associations for private schools have become fully recognized members of a national body designed to accredit such groups.

The Washington-based National Council for Private School Accreditation met here last week to vote on its first applications from charter members. The council gave its stamp of approval to six organizations, including the Association of Christian Schools International, the nation's second-largest private school group.

No candidates were turned down altogether, but four of the 15 charter members received less than full recognition. The other five members have yet to submit their applications.

The council's approval of its first members is a landmark event for many private school advocates who have long felt the need for an overall accrediting body geared specifically toward elementary and secondary private school associations.

There are more than 75 private school accrediting associations across the country.

Most of those groups looking for validation have turned to one or more of the six regional bodies that certify schools and colleges, and most likely will continue to do so, observers say.

But while the regional groups do a good job of assessing academic accountability, they are not generally attuned to the particular goals of private schools, said Ollie Gibbs, the director of academic affairs for the Association of Christian Schools International.

Mr. Gibbs's group, for example, is accredited by five of the six regional associations. But, Mr. Gibbs said, the group also wants to insure that the religious and spiritual components of its schools are adequately assessed. "Schools want to know, are they accomplishing in terms of moral development," he said.

Filling a Need

To address such concerns, a group of education officials and associations formed the National Council for Private School Accreditation as a "working group" about two years ago. The accreditation process began last spring when several of the charter members applied for full membership. (See Education Week, May 18, 1994.)

Council leaders hope that in establishing the group as an emblem of private school accountability, it will be comparable to the six regional accrediting groups, while providing distinct benefits for private schools.

Recognition from a national overseeing body could exempt private schools from certain regulations and save money for both schools and states that approve the group, said Charles J. O'Malley, the executive director of the council.

Moreover, national recognition could help students who have difficulty getting their transcripts accepted at colleges or universities, or who have trouble transferring from a private school to a public one, said Mr. O'Malley, a former head of the U.S. Education Department's private education office.

N.C.P.S.A. approval could also improve schools' eligibility for foundation and corporate support, he said.

Rigorous Standards

At last week's meeting, officials were wary of shortchanging any of the council's charter members by not granting them full approval. But they emphasized that to establish the council's credibility, they must uphold rigorous standards.

Applicants to the council must undergo a minimum one-year period of self-study before submitting to the group's accreditation experts, who document the study, standards, bylaws, and financial information of the applicants. A council representative then visits the association's headquarters and follows the association on a site visit to one of its schools.

The application process culminates in hearings by the council's commission on standards and review.

The six groups granted full membership last week are: the Association of Christian Schools International, the Association of Independent Schools of Florida, the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, the Florida Catholic Conference, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Schools, and the International Christian Accrediting Association.

The National Christian School Association was granted provisional status because it was awaiting a site visit.

Three newer groups with some additional steps to complete--the Association of Christian Teachers and Schools, the Kentucky Nonpublic Schools Commission, and the National Independent Private Schools Association--received candidate status.

All four groups are eligible to reapply for full membership.

A Costly Gain?

Council officials said they are optimistic about the group's future and are forming ties to state governments and philanthropic organizations.

A few observers have questioned the need for another accrediting body, noting that membership can be costly for associations.

The N.C.P.S.A. charges its members a $3,000 annual fee plus $1,000 for every 100 schools under the member group. Other accrediting bodies charge comparable fees.

But N.C.P.S.A. officials and members said the accreditation process--collaborating with a diverse group of peers with like-minded goals--is worth the cost.

"If someone isn't ready [for accreditation], then the next step is to help that association get ready," said Joyce G. McCray, the executive director of the Council for American Private Education in Washington and a national adviser to the new accrediting body. "That's how associations and schools improve."

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